Known as Britain’s Ocean City, Plymouth is one of two cities in the county of Devon. It is a cultural hub, a university town and has a rich maritime history – among other things! As it looks like we won’t be able to visit Plymouth, or anywhere in Devon, any time soon, are some amazing true facts about this fascinating place to tide you over until it is safe to travel again.
The oldest commercial bakery IN THE ENTIRE WORLD can be found in Plymouth! You’ll find it on the Barbican, Jackas Bakery is thought to be the oldest bakery in the world that is still in operation! It is thought that the biscuits that were taken on the Mayflower were made there!
It isn’t just baked goods that have a historic feel to them, Plymouth also boasts England’s oldest working distillery where you can still buy Plymouth Original Strength Gin! The distillery is located in the Barbican and their gins have been in production, made to the original recipe since the 1700s!
Plymouth also has the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world. It has been in continuous use since the 1700s.
The city is also home to one of the oldest regattas in the world. Plymouth Sailing Regatta started in the 1820s.
On arriving back on British soil, the survivors of the Titanic were put up in Plymouth, at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel to be exact. That isn’t the only interesting thing about this grand hotel, at one time it was the tallest building in the city and also hosted Ernest Shackleton and his team before they set sail for Antarctica and famous faces such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy stayed there too.
They aren’t the only people of note to have graced Plymouth’s streets, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, worked as a doctor in Dumford Street at his friend’s surgery.
Lawrence of Arabia, or as he was known then, T E Lawrence or Aircraftman Shaw served with the RAF in Plymouth. Charles Darwin also used the city’s port to embark on a voyage in the 1830s.
Plymouth is best known for its maritime history, recently the city celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, which departed England carrying the Pilgrims to the new world. The founders of the infamous Roanoke Colony which mysteriously disappeared also set sail from Plymouth.
It wasn’t just pilgrims heading for America that left Plymouth, those that founded New Zealand did too and convict ships left the shores for Australia. It wasn’t just British convicts that were held in Plymouth before being sent off, Napoleon Bonaparte was held captive in Plymouth Sound too!
Even now, Plymouth is renowned for its ports. The Port of Plymouth has the biggest naval base in the west, the fleet includes warships and nuclear submarines.
Plymouth’s port is so well known in fact that foreign navies use it for training.
Because of its port and its long connection with ships and sailing, Plymouth was also a haven for pirates back in the day. Captain Bligh was even born in the city and Captain Cook set off on his first voyage from Plymouth.
The first person to sail single handed around the globe set off from Plymouth. That man was Sir Francis Chichester, he set sail in 1966 and completed his journey in 226 days.
Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were both well known figures in the city in their day.
Speaking of Sir Francis Drake, he’s to thank for another first for Plymouth. He built Drake’s Leat, aka Plymouth Leat, a watercourse that ran from Dartmoor into the city creating one of the first ever municipal water supplies. Plymouth was the first in the UK to have a fresh water supply from outside the city boundary.
Another first for Plymouth? Plymouth was the city in England to have a female MP. They elected Nancy Astor – the first ever female member of parliament – in 1919. She represented Sutton.
It isn’t just ships and sailing that Plymouth is famous for, one of Britain’s youngest Olympians is from the city. Tom Daley was born there and competed in three Olympic games before he turned 23!
Scott of the Antarctic was also from Plymouth and his original skis and mittens are on display in the city.
Henry VIII’s first wife took her first steps on British soil in Plymouth. The young Spanish princess sailed from Europe to Plymouth before being transported on to London.
It wasn’t always a popular place for the monarchy though, during the English Civil War, Plymouth was very anti royalist and the parliamentarians used it as a base. However, after the royalists won and the monarchy returned to power, the people of Plymouth were surrounded by cannons.
Porcelain was invented in Plymouth by a man called William Cookworthy using clay from a nearby Cornish quarry.
As well as being a proud naval city, Plymouth is also home to Plymouth Argyle Football Club who got their name because the founders of the club lived in Argyle Terrace.
One of the most famous sights in Plymouth are the lighthouses. The original Eddystone Lighthouse was the first of its kind The third was erected on Plymouth Hoe and has delighted visitors ever since and the fourth is still used to this day.
People come from all over to go shopping in Plymouth, but did you know that the entire retail area of the city was destroyed during the second world war? What is there now was created by two men and remains one of the best examples of 1950s British architecture.
Another popular visitor attraction is the National Marine Aquarium, a conservation charity which operates in the town. They have had a number of notable residents themselves, including Snorkel, the Loggerhead Turtle who washed up on a nearby beach and Mad Jack, a 12 pound lobster who was estimated to be at least 100 at the time of his capture.
Did you know that there are 52 places called Plymouth across the world?
Another fun fact – the proof that Devon invented the pasty can be found in Plymouth. The original recipe was hidden among some books in the city and is now on display at The Box.
Many people love visiting Plymouth to go to the Royal William Yard because it is a truly beautiful part of the city – so it won’t be surprising to know that it is home to the largest collection of Grade 1 listed Naval buildings in the UK. There are a further 100 listed buildings at the Barbican.
Plymouth doesn’t just have a fascinating past, it is set to have an amazing future too. As well has having a marine conservation area, it became the largest UK city to be accredited with Plastic Free City Status in 2019.
Please note, the UK is currently under a nationwide lockdown and travel is not permitted. Please do not visit Plymouth at this time. For updates on the latest guidance and travel advice, please visit gov.uk/coronavirus.